Relief for West Coast fleet as Fisheries Minister listens to concerns

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Fears that the West Coast prawn fishing fleet could have days at sea cut by up to 15 per cent have been allayed today (Friday) as Marine Scotland announce a lesser cut of five per cent.

Concerns from local fishermen were highlighted in the Stornoway Gazette on April 4th as the industry continued to press Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead to reject the radical cut which could put much of the fleet out of business and affect island processing jobs.

A statement from Mr Lochhead this afternoon said he had listened to the concerns of fishermen: “I have been meeting with fishermen from around the country to listen to their concerns. It is important for the west coast fishermen to have their time at sea to catch their prawn quotas. The situation with the Cod Recovery Plan is extremely frustrating. I have been calling for changes to be made and will continue to do so. We need greater flexibility to manage the fisheries that move around our coast and I believe these prawn boats, which catch so little cod and have already put in place their own conservation measures, should be exempted from cod controls altogether.

“This year’s allocations mean that some boats will experience a reduction of up to five per cent in the time at sea they have used in recent years. However I’m pleased that we are able to offer all skippers the opportunity to undertake paid science and research work. This will have the double benefit of making up potential income lost by vessels from a reduction in their time at sea while also giving us a better understanding of the fish stocks off the West Coast, allowing us to better manage a sustainable fishery for the future.”

The need to allocate days at sea comes from the EU’s dysfunctional Cod Recovery Plan (CRP) that controls vessels’ time at sea even when they catch very little cod. The Scottish Government has been continually calling for the CRP to be substantially amended. The Government will call for the European Commission to take action to:

* Allow for the swift exemption from time at sea controls for vessels that catch very little cod, particularly where fishers are able to document low catches;

* Remove the rigidities in the plan which prevent EU Member States from moving their allocations of time at sea between different sea areas so that days at sea can be better targeted on low cod impact fisheries.

Days at sea allocations for west coast prawn vessels will be equivalent to 95 per cent or more of the hours spent at sea on the west coast in 2009-2011, with a minimum rate of 110 days . The Scottish Government hopes to be able to return allocations to 100 per cent in 2014-2015 if uptake this year is managed as anticipated.

These allocations mean that nearly 70 per cent of the west coast prawn fleet will either continue to be exempt from days at sea altogether or will face no reduction. The remainder will face a reduction of no more than 5 per cent in their normal time.

The Government will also help skippers affected this year by reductions in time at sea. Skippers will be offered a new opportunity to become involved in paid science work connected to inshore fisheries and the marine environment on the west coast. This opportunity will be open to all skippers, but the Government hopes that the initiative will be of particular interest to skippers operating locally on the west coast by serving to make up income potentially lost from a reduction in their fishing time.

In relation to prawn fishing on the west coast, the allocation for each vessel based on the west coast will be a number of days equivalent 95 per cent of their average annual time at sea in 2009-11, with a minimum allocation of 110 days at sea.

Vessels based on the east coast will receive an allocation for west coast prawn fishing equivalent to 85 per cent of their time at sea in 2009-11, with no minimum allocation.

Scottish fishing vessels are able to count their time at sea in hours, so vessels going to fish for a day are able to use any hours unused in that day during a future voyage. If a voyage during a day takes 14 hours, for example, then 10 hours may be used on another occasion. A vessel receiving an allocation of 120 days, for example, in fact receives 2880 hours, which is equivalent to 205 fourteen hour voyages.

The increased use in 2012 was caused by an influx to the west coast of vessels normally more active in the North Sea. They moved because prawn fishing grounds in the North Sea were less abundant last year. In general, North Sea vessels are more able to go to the west coast than the other way around (because the west coast vessels are smaller, sometimes older and not always able to cope with conditions in the North Sea).